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Trent v. Office of the Coroner of Peoria County

June 03, 2004

[5] ROSE M. TRENT, JAMES C. TRENT, AND JAMES CLARK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
OFFICE OF THE CORONER OF PEORIA COUNTY, ILLINOIS, AND DANIEL HEINZ, PEORIA COUNTY CORONER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, No. 03-MR-1 Honorable John A. Barra, Judge, Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Schmidt

[8]  The plaintiffs, Rose M. Trent, James C. Trent and James Clark, filed a pro se complaint under our state's Freedom of Information Act (the Act) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2002)) against the defendants, the office of the coroner of Peoria County and Daniel Heinz, in his official capacity as Peoria County coroner. The plaintiffs are attempting to obtain medical records of C.N., a deceased minor. The trial court ruled that the plaintiffs are not entitled to receive C.N.'s medical records. On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred in ruling that the records they seek are exempt from disclosure under the Act (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(b) (West 2002)) even though the plaintiffs have acquired a signed authorization from the deceased child's mother, Katrina Harden. We affirm.

[9]  BACKGROUND

[10]   Plaintiff James Trent and Katrina Harden are currently incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). They were both convicted of murdering C.N., who was four years old at the time of her death on July 20, 1996. Harden pled guilty and agreed to testify against Trent in exchange for the State's agreement not to seek the death penalty. James Trent appealed to this court in People v. Trent, 315 Ill. App. 3d 437, 734 N.E.2d 1 (2000). The facts stated in that appeal set forth the brutal murder of this four-year-old child. While James Trent and Harden were living together, they repeatedly struck C.N. with a belt, a metal spatula and a metal pole. Trauma from this severe beating caused C.N.'s death.

[11]   The remaining plaintiffs, Rose Trent and James Clark, filed various requests under the Act in an attempt to obtain C.N.'s medical records. On April 15, 1999, Rose went to the Peoria County coroner's office and orally requested to inspect and copy various documents related to C.N.'s death. Rose asserted that her request for the documents was pursuant to the Act. Initially, the coroner's office denied Rose's request.

[12]   On May 4, 2000, Rose submitted a written request for the documents under the Act. Accompanying this written request was a signed authorization from Harden directing the coroner's office to release C.N.'s medical records to Rose. On May 8, 2000, the Peoria County coroner denied Rose's request in writing.

[13]   On November 15, 2000, James Trent sent a similar request for documents to the coroner's office. On November 28, 2000, that request was denied.

[14]   On January 26, 2002, James Clark submitted a written request for the documents under the Act. This request also was accompanied by a signed authorization from Katrina Harden. On February 4, 2002, Clark's request was denied.

[15]   The plaintiffs exhausted their administrative remedies regarding their requests. Then, on January 2, 2003, the plaintiffs filed their complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Act. Among other documents, the plaintiffs sought C.N.'s medical records from (1) Saint Francis Medical Center; and (2) Methodist Hospital.

[16]   The defendants filed their answer on January 17, 2003. They contend that C.N.'s medical records are not subject to disclosure under the Act.

[17]   Eventually, the coroner's office supplied the plaintiffs with some of the documents they had requested, but not the decedent's medical records. At the hearing on the complaint, the trial court stated that the medical records were exempt from disclosure under the Act. The court commented that the authorization signed by Katrina Harden "might apply, if at all, to a request for these records directly from the hospitals." Plaintiffs appeal.

[18]   ANALYSIS

[19]   The plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by ruling they were not entitled to disclosure of the medical records under the Act.

[20]   We are called upon to interpret portions of the Act and other Illinois statutes. It is axiomatic that when interpreting a statute, we must ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature when it enacted the statute. Heck v. Central Illinois Light Co., 152 Ill. 2d. 401, 405, 604 N.E.2d 939, 941 (1992). The language of the statute itself provides the best indication of the drafters' intent. Kirwan v. Welch, 133 Ill. 2d 163, 165, 549 N.E.2d 348, 349 (1989). Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, a court of review must give it effect as written, without reading exceptions, limitations or conditions into the statute. Davis v. Toshiba Machine Co., America, 186 Ill. 2d 181, 184-85, 710 N.E.2d 399, 401 (1999). Because interpretation of a statute is a question of law, our review is de novo. Branson v. Department of Revenue, 168 Ill. 2d 247, 254, 659 N.E.2d 961, 965 (1995).

[21]   Under the Act, "Each public body shall make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records, except as otherwise provided in Section ...


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